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NORTHERN IDAHO: LAND OF LAKES

It's out of the way by most popular Utah travel routes, but the "land of the lakes" - the Idaho panhandle - is well worth a visit. Short, or long, there's plenty to see here on a stay of any length.

The state's largest body of water and several other big lakes combine for a greater concentration of lakes than in any other Western state. Add pine tree forests, winter resorts, the state's largest theme park (Silverwood), tourist shops, the nearby Canadian border and a moderate 2,000-foot above sea level location for most valleys, and it equals a great place to visit in any season.Fishing, hiking, camping, boating, skiing, golfing, the world's largest gondola, mine tours, Idaho's oldest building and spectacular mountain scenery will entertain any visitor.

Just over 700 miles from Salt Lake City, the most direct route to the Panhandle requires using I-90 through Montana. Only 50 miles in width, the Panhandle offers quick access to neighboring Montana and Washington, too.

In fact, being on Pacific time and so tied to Washington, this area of Idaho is far different from the half so close to the Beehive State. But, be warned. Rush hour and summer traffic jams have become common in Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint because of being discovered by tourists and new residents.

Kingpin of the scenery is Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced "Pond-er-ay"). At 43 miles long and up to 1,150 feet deep, this beautiful lake has a pristine backdrop of the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains.

Perhaps the best camping or RV spaces near the lake are at Farragut State Park (call 1-208-683-2425 for more information). The best public park is in Sandpoint, with swimming, parasailing and boat tours available (May to September).

Montana's Clark Fork River flows into Pend Oreille on the east, and the Pend Oreille River exits to the west.

Here's a summary of other Panhandle attractions:

Silverwood Theme Park:

Located just 15 miles north of Coeur d'Alene on U.S. 95 in Athol, this amusement park has a country carnival, daily airplane show, live entertainment and a full-size train. Open late May to October, Silverwood has kid rides, as well as a rapids flat, log flume, Ferris wheel, bumper boats and Knott's Berry Farm's original Corkscrew ride. Unlike many theme parks, this one is relatively uncrowded, and lines are short or non-existent on many days. Call 1-208-683-3400 for more park information.

Cataldo Mission:

Idaho's oldest building, constructed in 1850 by the Coeur d'Alene Indians under the direction of a Jesuit missionary, this stately structure is readily visible on a hill along I-90, about 20 miles east of Coeur d'Alene. It has an adjacent visitor's center. Call Old Mission State Park, 1-208-682-3814 for more information.

Silver Mountain Gondola:

Billed as the world's longest gondola, this 3.1 mile, 19-minute ride goes from Kellogg, 3,400 vertical feet up the mountain. In winter, it's access to Silver Mountain Ski Resort. In summer, it is hiking and mountain bike access and always great views. Call 1-208-783-1111 for more details.

Sierra Silver Mine Tour:

A family oriented tour of an actual depleted silver mine that shows underground equipment in operation. Found in Wallace, a tourist town with a historic building district, it's conveniently near the Montana border along I-90. Wallace also has a mining museum and a historic train depot. Call 1-208-752-5151 for mine information.

Coeur d'Alene and Lake Coeur D'Alene:

Daily boat cruises on the lake are available. The lake also features the world's only floating golf green, the world's longest floating boardwalk, boating, a Wild Waters park, greyhound racing and campgrounds. The city, largest in the Panhandle with approximately 25,000 people, was named "All American City" in 1991. It also contains a world-class hotel along the lake. Call 1-208-664-0587 for Coeur d'Alene information.

Priest Lake:

Another glacial created body of water with 70 miles of shoreline. There are nearby rustic lodges and camping. The Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars contains trees 12 feet across and 150 feet tall and has a trail to Granite Falls. Cruises on the Spokane River are also offered. Call 1-208-443-2200 for more information.

Bonners Ferry:

The last sizable Idaho town near the Canadian border, it represents how America used to be with Kootenai River, Robinson Lake, Moyie dam and falls, plus the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. It's also the Idaho gateway to Glacier Park territory. Call 1-208-267-5922 for more information.

Unusual shopping opportunities:

Sandpoint has an antique country market, Cedar Street Bridge Marketplace and the Incredible Christmas Store. Post Falls City, west of Coeur d'Alene, has more than 60 factory outlet shops.

Ski resorts:

Besides Silver Mountain, its 2,200-foot vertical drop and its famous gondola, Sandpoint boasts nearby Schweitzer Mountain Resort with a 2,400-foot drop and 300 inches of annual snowfall. In summer, there's hiking, a scenic chairlift and horseback riding. For more information on Silver Mountain, call 1-208-783-1111. For more on Schweitzer, call 1-800-831-8810.